A Book Review
How Some Much Rhapsodized Reforms Turn Ordinary Lives Upside Down, Shuggie Bain Makes a Strong Case in Its Entirety
There were different adjectives used to make sense of the uncertainty and instability unveiled by 2020. So the monotony of coping with lockdown ordeals, insecurity of being isolated, and apprehension of going through something unprecedented, collectively became new normals in an abnormal year. Humans have changed the course of life over thousands of years, as they always find a way. To beat covid blues, many resuscitated their old interests others explored newer avenues while being confined in four walls. According to a survey, the rate of people having read classics increased significantly during the initial months in the wake of the pandemic. Reading helped a lot of us to keep going and remaining sane. The booker prize nominations for this year represented a wider range of subjects. As the clarion call for more inclusiveness and diversity in the liberal arts has taken momentum, consequently literature from across the world is being given the acceptance and respect that western dominance cornered for so long. Amidst the brouhaha a Scottish writer Douglas Stuart won the prize for his debut novel Shuggie Bain. Shuggie Bain is an engaging read which stays with you with every passing sentence. This is a story set around mid 80’s and 90’s in Scotland during Thatcher years. When she talked about reforms as being a bitter medicine to be given to a child for his own good and how the ills of the country could be corrected by empowering people to fend for themselves in a free market economy. How her economic policies impacted the working class in Scotland and how unemployment, lawlessness, consumption of drugs and alcoholism aggravated, has been dealt with candor and clarity.
This book is a riveting tale of a mother-son relationship and delves into the response society gives you when you are vulnerable. The mother is an alcoholic who married a taxi driver and he abandons her following his philandering traits. Shuggie is a boy who is said to be not normal due to his gay like tendencies; he and his mother live a poverty stricken life exacerbated by her addiction. The story takes a slow pace and reads like a classic, organizing itself into simpler but seething events emblematic of the daily toils one goes through to survive. Agnes as the character of the mother is called is confident, ambitious and a resplendent woman who likes to keep herself and her home tidy. After her husband’s betrayal she takes to alcohol and in the mean time it takes her life. Shuggie has his own struggles from being bullied in the school to keeping his mother safe from voracious men who offer her drink and in return dwell on to take advantage of her. They survived barely on the little support provided by the government, most of which Agnes would spend on her drinks.
The much rhapsodized reforms turned the working middle and lower middle class upside down with the closure of mines and other allied sectors, so the society at large took an obnoxious turn. Shuggie Bain doesn’t romanticize the misery poverty brings yet a strong prose leaves you appalled at some details. An addicted person is not necessarily in dalliance with solipsism, he doesn’t care for anyone around and himself either, all that matters and stays is the pain and the odious remedy in the form of addiction.
Agnes’s two elder children from her first marriage leave her following her obduracy or incapacity to stay sober. Shuggie stays and wishes to continue but he too is pepped by her but he shows resilience and belief of her becoming normal someday. He unintentionally finds and widens the space to breathe in the asphyxiating air of prolonged predicament. Despite his mother’s flaws and inability to look after her, he makes her feel good about herself, he follows suit whatever he is being told or instructed to do. He tries to give his mother the care, love, attention and a sense of gratefulness she deserved. Agnes finally has her way out as was inevitable so is Shuggie. What interests me is that Shuggie never complained nor cursed his mother, he let her have her grief. He was the kindest to her; her frailty seemed to worry him but not her as a person. He made sense of her pain and hid his in between as he knew deep down she loved him as much as he did. The story ends at a point where it’s a new beginning for Shuggie and unintentionally he has become stronger to tackle imminent adversaries head on.
Douglas’s nascent attempt in constructing a tale inspired from some of his own past experiences turns out to be fulfilling and refreshing. Agnes is devastated after she stops to care for honor or a sense of pride but Shuggie is unwilling to give up on her so easily. His hope drives a persistent sympathy from the readers towards him. Even after Agnes meets her tragic end Shuggie’s hope is not served a death blow as his hope has evolved. He is moving ahead and is to face the greater travesties given him being not normal. However his unrealized sense of courage and uninformed innocence leave you with a contented sigh in the end.